What Superintendents Are Saying About Staff Shortages

If you’re wondering why you’re not seeing as many headlines about staffing shortages in schools, it’s because things might have improved.

But at the start of this school year, shortages remained a major concern for district leaders.

That’s according to superintendents who were surveyed late last year by RAND Corporation.

The three most common areas of concern for district leaders?

  • Substitute teachers—78 percent reported moderate or considerable shortages;
  • Bus drivers—68 percent reported moderate to considerable shortages; and
  • Special educators—53 percent reported moderate to considerable shortages.

Superintendents in high-poverty school systems were more likely to report higher concerns over teacher shortages than their peers in low-poverty districts.

Other areas also drew concern. Forty-six percent of superintendents said there was a moderate to considerable shortage of paraprofessionals in their school districts.

Just 41 percent said they had moderate to considerable shortages of mental health staff. That percentage varied by district location and enrollment with 22 percent of district leaders in urban districts and 23 percent of those in rural school systems reporting considerable shortage of mental health staff, compared to 16 percent of suburban district leaders.

Concerns about shortages are easing

Superintendents reported being less concerned this year about staffing shortages than they had been in recent years, when illness from the pandemic resulted in large scale substitute-teacher shortages—because so many teachers were out sick—and districts faced an uphill challenge to find bus drivers.

There was a 25 percent drop in the share of superintendents who reported considerable shortage of substitute teachers. There was even a 12 percent drop among district leaders who considered the bus driver shortage to be considerable.

But RAND suggested that district leaders’ view of the overall staffing situation could have been affected by a general decline in teacher absences, which triggered the need for additional staff in many instances. Another possibility was that district leaders, helped by looser hiring requirements in some cases, found it easier to staff some positions than earlier in the pandemic.

Data that shows that district leaders perceive "considerable shortage" and "moderate shortage" in teaching positions like substitute teachers, special education. Bus drivers lead the perception of shortages among nonteaching staff according to Educator Turnover Has Markedly Increased, but Districts Have Taken Actions to Boost Teacher Ranks, RAND  Corporation, February, 2022.

Staff shortages vary by location and enrollment

Math, science, and elementary school classes continued to be particularly hard areas to staff in high-poverty districts, according to RAND.

Eighteen percent of district leaders in high-poverty districts, for example, reported considerable shortage for elementary school staff, while only 4 percent in more affluent districts said the same.

Suburban and rural districts reported more challenges with bus driver shortages than their peers in urban areas, where many students take local transportation to get to school.

The survey results came from RAND’s American School District Panel, a nationally-representative group of 1,148 district and charter management leaders that RAND polls on school issues. The survey was conducted between Oct. 13. and Dec. 22, 2022.

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